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Dust Bowl - Scholastic

In the 1930s, a terrible drought
It didn’t rain. Nothing
George E. Marsh Album//NOAA/AP Images
Ferocious dust
A violent dust
storm rages
toward the town
of Stratford,
Texas, 1935.
Scholastic Scope • MARCH 12, 2012
struck America.
would grow.
storms turned the sky black.
that you were there.
this incredible story.
пѓ • MARCH 12, 2012
This is a story about an
environmental disaster. As you
read, think about the connection
between the land and the
humans who live on it.
By Alex Porter
and Kristin Lewis
saac “Ike” Osteen rolled
down the window of his
car, letting the breeze
blow in. The air felt
eerily hot, but Ike, 17,
was so busy chatting
with his two friends that he didn’t
really pay attention. It was April
14, 1935. High school graduation
was only a month away. As Ike
After a storm, piles of dirt
could be 20 feet high. Dust
would seep into houses,
ruining everything inside.
drove his friends to town in Baca
excitedly about their plans.
farmhouse as fast as they could.
But the storm moved faster.
in damp rags to filter out the
grit. Farmers would smear their
When the blast hit, it knocked them
nostrils with Vaseline to keep their
very strange: In the sky, thousands
to the ground, enveloping them in
nasal passages from clogging and
of birds, squawking and shrieking
choking dust.
bleeding. The dust made everyone
Then they noticed something
and cawing, were frantically flying
Ike and his friends were caught
sick, especially children and the
south. Hundreds of rabbits were
in “Black Sunday,” the worst dust
elderly, who contracted “dust
scampering across the ground. The
storm in American history.
pneumonia.” Many of them died.
animals seemed terrified—like they
were trying to escape.
But from what?
Dust Everywhere
Dust storms were nothing new
It hadn’t always been this way.
True, the Great Plains had
always had severe weather—bitter
to Ike. For the past few years, they
winters and scorching summers,
jolt. Bzzt! Electricity shot through
had been ravaging the Great Plains,
with periods of drought and
the car, shorting it out. He and his
a large area of mostly treeless,
flooding. Indeed, for thousands
friends leapt out of the car.
flat grassland that extends from
of years, these extremes had
northern Texas all the way to
been a normal part of the region.
horizon, a monstrous cloud of
Canada. Each time a storm hit, the
In fact, the Great Plains had
dust, hundreds of feet high. It was
dust would get into everything—
accommodated all kinds of life.
a swirling, churning, roaring mass.
kitchens, bedrooms, hair, nails,
Buffalo had grazed on the long,
mouths. Families would cower
thick grasses; small bands of
inside their homes, faces wrapped
American Indians had followed
Suddenly, Ike felt a powerful
And then they saw it: on the
They ran toward a nearby
Go to
e for
our in
ble Du
st Bow
Scholastic Scope • MARCH 12, 2012
l vide
Top: Arthur Rothstein/Corbis; Opposite Page: Bettmann/Corbis (2); map: Jim McMahon/”Mapman”
County, Colorado, they talked
these vast herds across the prairies.
By the time Ike’s father moved
Money to Be Made
They ate the eggs laid by their hens
When Ike was growing up, daily
and carried water from a well.
to Baca County in 1909, those days
life was often a struggle for him and
were long gone. In the late 1800s,
his family. His house was a dugout:
loved the frontier. He loved the
a new generation of frontiersmen
a one-room home built into a hill,
golden wheat fields in autumn.
had arrived. They were determined
with walls made of sod, or soil. He
He loved the smell of the hay in the
to make this vast and unsettled
shared this room with his parents
barn. He loved listening to his dad
region their own. In short order,
and eight siblings.
play music with his friends, their
Life was far from easy, but Ike
the buffalo were hunted almost
Throughout the spring, Ike’s
fiddles echoing through the night.
to extinction, then the American
mother would pour boiling water
But this way of life didn’t last.
Indians were forced to move to
over the walls to kill the bugs that
Ike’s father fell ill and died. At
reservations. Ranchers fenced
appeared every morning. On winter
the age of 12, Ike went to work,
off the open prairies and let their
nights, the family burned cow dung
determined to help his family.
cattle feed on the rich grasses.
to keep warm. They raised cattle,
Thankfully, the rains had been
which provided milk and cream
abundant throughout the
that could be traded for supplies.
1920s. Crops flourished.
But the ranchers didn’t last. They
were soon pushed out by farmers
пѓ like the Osteens, who ripped out
the tall grasses to plant crops.
Then the dust storms arrived.
Nature was out of balance.
Area of the
greatest damage
Dust Bowl
Baca County
Los Angeles
New Mexico
Only portions of the
original route remain.
Scale of Miles
LEFT: The dust was especially hard on
the lungs. TOP: Many families in the
Great Plains lived in “dugouts” like this. • MARCH 12, 2012
There was money to be made
a tractor. Thousands of others had
buried. Cows went blind. Animals
helping plow fields. Ike gave every
the same idea.
choked to death, their bellies
No One Listened
By the 1930s, grain prices were
falling and farmers in the Great
Soon, millions of acres were
transformed into a new landscape.
The prairies vanished, replaced by
endless rows of corn and wheat.
There were some who raised
swollen with dust. Soon, the region
was being called the “Dust Bowl.”
As Kansas author Avis D. Carlson
wrote, “We live with the dust, eat
it, sleep with it, watch it strip us
Plains were in trouble. To make
concerns about these farming
of possessions and the hope of
ends meet, they had to plant more
techniques. Another drought,
grain. So they ripped out more and
they said, was sure to come. Crops
Sure enough, crops died, and
more grassland to make room.
would choke. Things could get bad.
Ike watched Baca County fall apart.
And why shouldn’t they? At
the time, Americans thought the
supply of land was limitless. The
government had declared that land
was one resource that “cannot be
used up.” Ike earned extra money
helping neighbors turn their
But the dream of prosperity was too
alluring, and no one listened.
Mother Nature, however, was
about to strike back.
Black Rollers
By 1932, the grim predictions
Then came Black Sunday.
A New Era
Black Sunday was far worse
than anything Ike had seen.
Eventually, he and his friends
managed to grope their way into
prairie land into farmable soil
had come true. The Great
the farmhouse. By then, the world
by tearing out the top layer with
Plains was hit by record-
had gone pitch-black; the dust had
breaking heat and
blotted out the sun. They waited
relentless drought.
while the storm howled outside,
Temperatures soared
rattling the house like a baby’s toy.
to 115 degrees.
dawn, they emerged into a world
cool their dugout
that had changed forever. The
by dousing it with
storm had been hundreds of miles
water, which quickly
wide. It had blown all the way to
sizzled into steam.
New York City. It had dumped 12
Fields were baked
million tons of dust on Chicago. It
into powder. Soil,
even reached ships 300 miles off
once held in place by
the Atlantic coast.
the tough, drought-
During the 1930s, America went through an economic
crisis called the Great Depression. Thousands lost
their homes, their savings, everything. Desperate and
starving, millions waited in “bread lines” like this one.
Scholastic Scope • MARCH 12, 2012
Hours later, in the quiet of
Ike’s mom tried to
Prairie residents would later say
resistant prairie
that it was the end of the world.
grass, dried out and
But the truth is that Black Sunday
blew away in the high
heralded the beginning of a new
winds, kicking up
era. That day was a wake-up call.
blizzards of dirt.
The country realized that humans
These “black
had devastated the land, and that
rollers” could funnel
land was not a limitless resource.
as high as 10,000 feet
If they didn’t do something, the
into the sky. Cars
dust storms would return.
and buildings were
In the coming years,
penny he earned to his mom.
government officials worked to
restore the Great Plains. They
replanted grasses and millions
of trees. They dispatched relief
workers, equipped with new
farming practices that would be
less harmful. It worked. Today,
many areas have been restored.
Nothing Comes Close
More than 2.5 million people
fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s—
many to California. For them,
POETRY connection
This is a
poem from
the awardwinning
Out of the
Dust, about
a young girl
in Oklahoma
during the
Dust Bowl
the dream of a prosperous farm
life had faded. As far as they were
concerned, nature had spoken, and
the message was clear: Go away.
So what about Ike Osteen?
Eventually, the drought in
Baca County ended and the rains
Go to Scope
Online for the
whole poem.
returned. By then, most of Ike’s
lives in happier places. Ike had
moved on too. After graduating
from high school (second in his
and traveled the country. He fought
in World War II. Many years later,
By Karen Hesse
It started out as snow,
big flakes
catching on my sweater,
lacy on the edges of my sleeves.
Snow covered the dust,
softened the fences,
soothed the parched lips
of the land.
And then it changed,
halfway between snow and rain,
glazing the earth.
Until at last
it slipped into rain,
light as mist.
family had moved on, starting new
class!), he worked on the railroads
From OUT OF THE DUST by Karen
Hesse. Copyright В© 1997 by
Karen Hesse. Reprinted by
permission of Scholastic Inc.
Why do
you think
this poem
is called
It was the kindest
kind of rain
that fell.
he returned to Baca County, the
lived through the Dust Bowl can
times are, he thinks. Nothing can
understand. When he hears others
come close to the horror of those
His life has been fulfilling. He has
complain about hard times, he
long years, when simply taking a
a resilience that only those who
shrugs. They don’t know what hard
breath could kill you.
land he had always loved so dearly.
Today, Ike is well into his 90s.
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